Release Date: Fall 2008
On Apr. 9, Bethesda invited journalists to the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco to check out their progress on Fallout 3, and to tell us that we'd be allowed to go hands-on with it at this year's E3, which people are finally talking about now, after spending the last six months acting as if it doesn't exist.
Essentially, I just spent 45 minutes being told why July is going to rule. Ah, to be a games writer in the summertime.
Fallout 3, at this point, is still an alpha build. It's a well-polished alpha build, with some pretty hilarious placeholder dialogue (like one of the male developers doing a bad falsetto for the voice of your character's mother), but an alpha build nonetheless. As such, everything you can say about it comes with the caveat that it could yet change.
Assuming that it's possible that someone might not know about this game's history, Fallout 3 is the fourth game in its series, coming years after the dissolution of its original developer. Bethesda won the bidding war back in 2004, nerd rage ensued, and now we have this: a first-person shooter with heavy RPG elements (or perhaps it's the other way around), a huge open world set in and around the radioactive ruins of Washington, D.C., and a fan base that may actually be legally insane.
While the game shares many developers with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, it's also very much intended as a Fallout game, with that series' setting, themes and black sense of humor. In a nod to the original games' turn-based combat system, you can play Fallout 3 as a shooter, or you can pause the action to call your shots, complete with a shift in camera perspective and giant clouds of gore. Tossing a nuclear grenade in slow motion directly into a mutant's open mouth is pretty much the best thing ever.
The game begins at the moment of your character's birth inside one of the closed-off Vault habitats, with the first sight you see being the face of your father. Once you select a name and an appearance for your character as an adult, your father's face will be procedurally generated to look like yours. The character customization isn't as in-depth as Oblivion's was, with a lot of options for hairstyles rather than hair you can endlessly tweak and adjust, but the end product looks a lot better than Oblivion's ever did.
One year later, as a toddler, you get to customize your character's starting statistics, and nine years after that, you're given the PipBoy 3000 personal computer that forms your inventory and status screens for the rest of the game. After that, as was shown last year, your father eventually chooses to leave the Vault for some unexplained reason, and your mission is to explore the wastelands outside and find him.
Part of what Bethesda was most anxious to show off was the introduction of Dogmeat, a stray dog who you can bring up to be your new best friend. Dogmeat is a carryover from past Fallout games, and in Fallout 3, he can be asked to search the area for food, weapons, or ammunition. If you're worried he might get killed — and he very well could — you can also ask him to wait patiently at the Vault for you to get back.
Bethesda also put some of the game's enemies and environments on display. The ghouls are back, from simple mutants to brain-fried and rabid aggressors to the radioactive Glowing Ones, who can heal other ghouls while forcing you to take radiation damage. In the demo, the ghouls were holed up inside an old office building, where the Glowing One provided brief flashbacks to how the building looked before the war.
All the really interesting visuals from the demo took place outside, though. Post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., is a battlefield, with the Brotherhood of Steel defending what's left of humanity against a race of superhuman mutants. The area around the base of the Washington Monument looks like the setting of a World War I game, with chaingun-wielding paladins engaged in trench warfare against rocket-chucking steroid cases.
A lot could still change about Fallout 3, and probably will. It's a solid project with a good pedigree from a proven developer, though, so it's almost certainly a sure bet. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it at this year's E3.
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